Christmas Conclusions

Terry and I spent last weekend in Chicago, a trip that has taken on the essence of tradition for us this time of year. I grew up in a small city of about 75,000 in Missouri and he grew up on a farm in eastern South Dakota so any trip any time to Chicago is exciting for us. We have come to love that city in particular and while we haven’t explored much beyond the downtown (“The Loop”), North Michigan Avenue (“The Miracle Mile”) and the El rides (the elevated train) north to Wrigley Field and south to U.S. Cellular Park, we always find plenty to keep us busy and in awe for a couple of days.

I’ve struggled personally for the last months (and years, but it seems the last months have been especially difficult for the Nation) over those things and actions that divide us as a people. And I admit that I have true fear at times over what’s ahead or what might be. I know I’m not supposed to be afraid…that is a theme repeated over and over again during the Advent and Christmas seasons: “Do not be afraid,” the scriptures say. But it’s difficult to completely master my fears or even turn them over to a Higher Being. When I have been able to do that, it is truly a freeing experience. So I consistently work at overcoming fear.

Hershey's KissThe hordes of people on the streets of Chicago on this weekend before Christmas truly reminded me of huddled masses. And, yet, there was a feeling of holiday cheer and goodwill – people holding doors for others, saying “thank you” and “excuse me,” smiling, volunteering to hold each others’ cameras so that a whole group or a couple could all be in a picture with a huge decorated tree in the background. There just wasn’t any fear that I could feel – even in handing over my expensive DSLR camera to a complete stranger to take our picture. I was thinking, “Well, if he decides to bolt with that camera, that sucker’s gone ‘cause I’d never catch him.” But I didn’t fear it.

Of note during our many hours and miles on foot were the police men and women, in squad cars and on horseback. There was hardly a block that we walked that a police presence was missing. I have always appreciated police protection, and now, in a time and a place where we can no longer just assume that violence won’t erupt out of nowhere, knowing the police were present and pleasant just reinforced my faith in the calling of that profession.

But the surprise I got was a sermon I heard in Chicago in an old, historic church on the far south side of The Loop. I didn’t want to go to church, frankly, but Terry was gently insisting (as he does every week with me) so I just gave in as it was just a slight diversion from holiday merriment. The illustration that day was about two kittens that had crawled out from under the pastor’s front porch, cold and hungry. Being the Man of God he was, he couldn’t turn them away so inside they came and he fed them with droppers of milk and called the Humane Society to let them know he would be bringing them in first thing in the morning.

Well, you can guess that the outcome was different. Those kittens knew they had a good thing and they weren’t shy about letting their benefactor know how grateful they were for his protection. They crawled on and kneaded his chest as he leaned back in the recliner, and purred their appreciation. By morning, the good pastor had a change of mind, called the animal shelter and let them know he would be keeping the kittens.

All that happened back in October. The three friends have only grown closer.

But the line that drove the story home was this, “One of my congregants said to me, ‘Now that you know what love is, your sermons will probably get better.’”

Hearing this as a complete stranger, my initial reaction was a genuine concern for the pastor’s obvious solitude. But it didn’t take long before I felt a sense of indignation on his behalf – who had the right to judge whether he had love in his life or not? And, finally, I concluded that his sermons were probably just fine (this one certainly was), but that being part of a live-in or extended family (whatever that designation has come to mean today) does not mean he knows nothing of love.

Love is demonstrated by pastors and police officers every single day of the year. It can be felt in greetings to strangers and the offering of simple courtesies like holding a door or expressing thanks. Love is found and known in people whether they are single, couples, or a conglomeration of family and friends. And love is found as well in kittens and puppies.

I think the pastor’s point was that love shows up sometimes when we least expect it. But at this time of year we make special note of a love that came down at Christmas, in an unexpected place and time. Love comes to us in vulnerable forms like babies and hungry kittens. Love comes to us when we are vulnerable, when we admit to the fears we have, when we take no umbrage at the admonishment to “Fear not!”

The irony is that love overcomes fear. But we have to allow ourselves to be open enough to recognize love even when it crawls out from unexpected places like under the front porch. In love we find our fears are lifted and we are truly free.

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